Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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November 2000, Week 5 -- The Write Stuff


   A word, or two or three, about word processing, which the rest of us call "writing."

 WordPerfect Office 2000

   Writing is the number one use of desktop computers and has been since the day someone added a keyboard. You would think that just about everybody uses Microsoft Word for writing these days, but there are pockets of resistance. Millions of people use "WordPerfect," for instance, and I believe it is still the predominant word processor in the legal profession. A surprising number of people, numbering in the tens of thousands at least, still use "WordStar," which hasn't been available for a dozen years.


   I know at least one writer who uses "Electric Pencil," a word processor put out by Radio Shack 22 years ago. Stephen King used to use a Wang dedicated word processor, and for all I know, still does, even though the company went out of business 15 years ago. Who am I to point the finger? I still use XyWrite, which came out 20 years ago. I thought AppleWriter was pretty good too, and I really loved AtariWrite.


   The point of all this is that a word processing program, once learned, is hard to shake. And the reason is that word processors tend to be used by different types of people for different purposes.


   MS Word, the runaway market leader, is good for letters, reports, monographs, and other relatively short documents. It's very strong on formatting, which most professional writers don't care about but is important for business. It's strengths are also its weaknesses: all those formatting features and grammar checkers and the like slow down the writing process, and I would certainly like to strangle the little imp that pops up to "help" whenever you want to write a letter.


   WordPerfect probably gained its following among legal eagles by its early ability to compare one document against another and pinpoint any differences -- a valuable aid for people making changes to contracts and other documents (almost all word processing programs can do this now). Another big plus was that by the time you got to version 5, the program was completely stable; almost nothing you could do would cause it to lock, shut down or lose a document.


   Programs like WordStar and XyWrite, on the other hand, had a different focus: they were geared toward writing and lots of it -- just the kind of thing you wanted for doing books. For the joys of WordStar you might visit science fiction author Robert Sawyer's web site:


   When it comes to fast text movement, nothing ever beat XyWrite, which was a desktop rip-off of the multi-million dollar word processor Atex, designed by Kodak for newspapers, magazines and similar heavy-duty publishing operations. You could search a thousand pages for a particular word, or move a block of text from one page to another and it would happen so fast you wouldn't even see the screen flicker. With two keystrokes you could store pieces of text as short as a single word or as long as an encyclopedia, and when you hit those key strokes again, boom, there it was, slugged into place, as they say in the newspaper business, faster than the eye could follow.


   These word processing programs preceded the use of the mouse, so one of the things that makes them faster and easier is that all commands are entered from the keyboard, which is much faster than using a mouse. There are still places to go for these old giants. For WordStar you can take a look at, which even offers a free add-on routine that lets you use WordStar key arrangements in Microsoft Word.

   XyWrite is a tougher problem. "The Technology Group," at used to sell XyWrite and still lists various versions of it along with numerous accessory programs, but trying to order them brings no response. It's good luck and good hunting. Using Copernic or Profusion or any of the other metasearch engines helps to turn up a number of sites for these old programs, and some odd chat groups. A student at the Columbia School of Journalism, for example, complained that it took him five weeks to learn how to use XyWrite. It took me five minutes, which shows you that a lot depends on what you want from a program and how you approach getting it.

   A good free word processing program is "Yeah Write," which can be found at It's $30 for the full version, but free for a download that has only half the features. My own opinion is that the fewer the features the better, so take the free one.




-- Video lectures delivered by experts in investing in stocks and bonds. Service is free and conducted by the National Association of Securities Dealers and the American Association of Individual Investors. First three lectures online: Margin Accounts; Earnings Estimates; Stop and Limit Orders.


-- Another site for local weather forecasts and reports. This one is much more interesting than the previously mentioned It provides continuous temperature readings and weather forecasts on your screen and has web-cams focused on central locations in major U.S. cities. Temperature is updated every time you go online.


-- A site owned by eBay and much like eBay, with the crucial difference that it is not an auction. The items for sales are all used, prices are fixed, and the retail price for the item when new is listed alongside.


NOTE: Readers can search more than four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at or